“Tomorrow’s National Cabinet meeting must agree to workable, consistent rules on COVID testing, isolation and return to work that are cognisant of widespread shortages, the huge stresses on our supply chains and the growing number of critical workers out of action,” Innes Willox, Chief Executive of the national employer association Ai Group, said today.


“While gradual improvements to the COVID rules made already are welcome, there remain different restrictions in different states that are preventing swathes of relatively low risk employees in critical sectors from going to work.


“Businesses in food and logistics are reporting that 10-50% of their workers are sick or in isolation.  To give this perspective, if 20 per cent of our entire workforce was isolated or sick that would equate to around 2.6 million workers.


“One potential solution is to temporarily lift visa work right restrictions.  There are hundreds of thousands of visa holders in Australia at any one time and if those without work rights or with limited work rights were allowed to work temporarily this would address supply shortages and ease the stresses for many businesses.


“Ai Group would like to see consideration given to a temporary granting of work rights to all visa holders currently in Australia to allow them to work in the areas of acute need such as in areas for which work right extensions have already been given to international students. (Relaxed international student visa restrictions).


“Under such an arrangement, areas where visa holders would be allowed to work for the temporary period would include aged care and disability sectors; agriculture; tourism and hospitality, supermarkets and associated distribution and food manufacturing facilities.


“Why not, for example, allow temporary skilled 482 visa holders to earn extra money helping to alleviate shortages by working extra hours in a supermarket, a food manufacturing plant or as a truck driver.  Right now they can only work for one sponsor.


“This temporary change to visas could be introduced immediately and reviewed when the Omicron outbreak passes its peak.


“This crisis should force us to think creatively about rules and regulations to identify ways to get all hands on deck in critical sectors,” Mr Willox said.



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